|Ragwort (Senecio jacobea)|
I once suffered from mild poisoning when I'd taken the advice of a 'free wild food' book and tried chickweed, which is recommended as being fine in salads. I'd picked it in the garden and inadvertently included some sun spurge (Euphorbia helioscopia), which looks vaguely similar when you haven't got your glasses on. The Euphorbia had the effect of numbing my mouth and tongue so that I could hardly talk. At this point my wife, always sympathetic, said it was a good thing because it shut me up. There's a similar effect accompanying the consumption of the houseplant known as dumb cane (Dieffenbachia spp), the sap swells the tongue and justifies the common name. This is well known, but I pride myself in having personally carried out the ground-breaking research on sun spurge.
Cows seem to be victims of other aspects of danger in plants: I was fishing on the River Dane opposite a fifteen foot high clay bank, when a cow appeared at the top of it and peered longingly at a patch of grass and wildflowers growing on a narrow ledge some distance below the lip. It disappeared and I thought it had decided to make do with the thirty acres of grass in its field, but a couple of minutes later it came back and repeated its thoughtful perusal. Then, overcome with longing, it stepped gingerly onto a bulge of eroding bank with the obvious intention of working its way along the face to where dinner beckoned. It got further than I'd have thought possible before the clay suddenly crumbled.
I've always thought cows' faces were pretty mild and expressionless, but this one proved the exception as widening eyes and gaping mouth conveyed a definite impression of surprise and horror. The accompanying bellow completed the bovine version of OH SHIT! before cow and large section of banking obeyed gravity and plunged into the river.
I don't know how much a cow weighs, but it certainly displaces enough water to give Archimedes a 'eureka' moment. The resulting tsuname headed my way as I sat peacefully fishing and I sprang into action too late to stop my ham butties and half my tackle disappearing into the torrent.
I didn't catch anything after that.